"Hurrah!" Johnnie Green shouted. And he dashed out of the woodshed and ran to the barnyard as fast as he could scamper.
There was a good reason for his high spirits and his haste. His father had just told him he might have a lamb for a pet.
Farmer Green followed Johnnie at a slower pace. When he reached the barnyard fence Johnnie was already on the other side of it, trying to catch a certain black lamb.
Now, Johnnie Green was spry, but this black lamb was sprier. Whenever Johnnie thought he had the lamb the black rascal always managed to slip out of his clutches.
"I'll help you," said Farmer Green. And climbing the fence, he soon had the lively lamb cornered and caught.
Then Johnnie lost no time in taking his new pet in his own arms.
"I'm going to call him . . ." Johnnie began, as his father let go of the struggling black armful.
But Johnnie Green never finished what he had started to say. The first thing he knew the lamb had squirmed out of his arms and was running up the lane.
Johnnie straightened up and gazed after him in dismay.
"I don't believe I'll call him anything," he murmured, half to himself.
Farmer Green couldn't help laughing. And then, noticing a very disappointed look on Johnnie's face, he said, "Cheer up, Johnnie! That lamb is the youngest one on the farm, but he's too big for a pet. He's a wild one. Let him run with the flock and we'll see if we can't do something to make you feel happy."
Well, Johnnie Green knew that when his father talked like that it was silly to be glum. So he cried, "All right!" And turning his back upon the black lamb, which was by this time almost up to the head of the lane, Johnnie walked back to the woodshed.
The next day, when Farmer Green came home from a drive over the hill, Johnnie shouted "Hurrah!" once more. For lying on a bit of hay in the bottom of the buggy was a white snowball lamb no more than half as big as the lively black scamp that had got away from Johnnie the day before.
Johnnie Green didn't need to ask whose lamb this was. He knew at once that it was his own.
"Where'd you get him?" he demanded.
"At your uncle's!" his father explained.
Johnnie lifted the white snowball lamb out of the buggy and set him down gingerly upon the ground. And the white lamb didn't try to run off. He was only a tiny thing, with a very soft coat and a very pink nose.
"I wonder if he's hungry," said Johnnie Green. "I'll get some corn and see if he wants anything."
"You'll have to feed him milk in a bottle," his father told him. "He isn't weaned yet. Bring him into the woodshed!"
In a little while Johnnie's father had found a baby's bottle, which he filled with warm milk.
Then all Johnnie had to do was to hold the bottle to his new pet's mouth. The lamb did the rest.
"I'm going to call him Snowball," Johnnie announced. And then he began to laugh.
"Look at his tail!" he shouted. "He'll switch it off if he isn't careful."
For as Snowball lamb drank the milk he jerked his stubby tail up and down at a great rate.
Old dog Spot, who was stretched upon the woodshed threshold, gazed at Snowball lamb with a lofty air.
"That snowball lamb has a queer notion of the way a tail ought to be wagged," he said deep down in his throat. "He ought to wag it from side to side. But I suppose he's too young to know better. I guess I’ll have to teach him a thing or two.”
Much to old dog Spot's disgust Johnnie Green and his new pet lamb soon became great friends. It wasn't long before Snowball, lamb, followed his young master about the yard and even into the farmhouse, when Mrs. Green wasn't looking.
It was a remark that Johnnie made about Snowball lamb one day which caused old Spot to speak his mind plainly to the Muley Cow. Johnnie Green actually said, in Spot's hearing, "Snowball knows as much as a dog!"
"I never did have any use for sheep," Spot told the Muley Cow. "Everybody knows they're all terribly stupid. So you can imagine how I felt when Johnnie Green spoke like that to his father."
The Muley Cow chewed her cud. She had a far-off look in her eyes, as if she might be thinking about what Spot was saying, or as if she might not. Anyhow, she did not speak.
"And to think" Spot growled, "to think how I used to take care of Johnnie when he was no more than a baby! Do you suppose this lamb could take care of a baby? Do you suppose he'd pull a baby out of the mill pond? Or fight off a bull? Or kill a snake?"
The Muley Cow turned her calm face upon Spot.
"If you're jealous . . . " she began.
"Jealous!" Spot barked. "Of course I'm not jealous. But I must say that this Snowball Lamb is very displeasing to me."
"Then why don't you . . . " the Muley Cow began again.
"I would," Spot interrupted, "I would, only I'm not a sheep killer. And I don't intend to become one."
"This boy," said the Muley Cow, "he'll grow tired of that lamb. The other boys will begin to tease him because that snowball lamb follows him about. And that will be too much for Johnnie. . . . I know boys," the Muley Cow declared.
Old dog Spot sighed. "I hope you're not mistaken," he remarked. "Time will tell. Just now anybody can see that Johnnie Green is simply crazy about that silly new pet of his."
It was only a few days later that something happened to cause old dog Spot to lose all hope.
Johnnie Green and his father hitched up the old horse Ebenezer and started for the village.
Of course Spot would have followed them, under the wagon, if he had been at the barn when they left. But he wasn't. He was up in the pasture, hunting woodchucks.
Just as old Ebenezer turned the corner at the foot of the hill Johnnie Green happened to look back. And there was Snowball lamb, following a little way behind them!
Of course it would never do to let him run all the way to the village and back. And Farmer Green didn't want to turn around and take Snowball lamb home. So Johnnie Green jumped down and lifted Snowball lamb into the wagon.
So he rode to the village and then rode home again.
Johnnie Green was greatly pleased by the whole affair. And Snowball lamb was pleased, too. As soon as he reached the farmyard he began talking about his trip to the village.
Everybody listened to Snowball lamb with wonder. That is, everybody wondered except Henrietta Hen. She began talking in a shrill voice about her visit to the county fair. And she said spitefully to Snowball lamb, "You'd better get out of the way before old dog Spot comes back from the pasture!"
Old dog Spot came home from the pasture feeling quite pleased with himself. He had caught a fat woodchuck. And that was enough to make him happy.
Spot hadn't crossed the barnyard when Henrietta Hen came fluttering up to him. She was a busybody, always trying to get somebody into trouble. "Snowball lamb went to the village with Johnnie Green and his father!" Henrietta shrieked.
"That's good news," said old dog Spot. "I've been hoping to hear something like that. We're well rid of that Snowball Lamb."
"Oh! But they brought him back with them!" Henrietta Hen explained.
Spot's face fell. "That's a pity," he said.
Henrietta Hen peered into Spot's face. There was something that she couldn't understand.
"Why aren't you angry?" she inquired in her high pitched voice. "Don't you realize that Snowball tried to follow the wagon to the village? To be sure, they picked him up down at the corner. But I want you to know that he tried to take your place."
At that old Spot let out a howl of rage.
"I'll never go woodchuck hunting again!" he cried. "Things have come to a pretty pass if I can't leave the farmyard for a few hours without having a lamb insult me like that."
Henrietta Hen was pleased.
"I thought you'd want to know what had happened," she remarked. "And now I must add that Snowball lamb has been boasting about his trip. Of course, his journey was nothing, compared with my visit to the county fair last year. But I don't like to hear a lamb telling about his travels. Can't you put a stop to it?"
Old dog Spot shook his head.
"For once," he said slowly, "I can't help wishing I was a sheep killer."
"Well," said Henrietta, "you know you could try."
"It's not a question of trying," Spot told her. "My family isn't a sheep killing one. I have to live up to the family name."
"Well," Henrietta Hen declared, "if I were you I'd join another family, at least for a short time."
But old dog Spot declared that that wouldn't do at all. "We'll have to be patient," he said. "The Muley Cow claims that Johnnie Green will get tired of Snowball sooner or later. It may be that she is right. Let us hope so!"
"Farmer Green ought to turn that great lamb into the pasture," Henrietta Hen spluttered.
That was exactly what Mrs. Green herself thought.
"Your lamb can't come into my kitchen!" she called at that very moment. For Johnnie Green was just then entering the doorway with Snowball at his heels.
"Thank goodness," Spot barked, "there's one person on this farm who has some sense! If it wasn't for Mrs. Green I'd be tempted to run away."
As Johnnie Green closed the door behind him, leaving Snowball upon the stone step, Snowball gave a plaintive baa-a-a!
"Ugh!" cackled Henrietta Hen. "Did you ever hear such a silly sound in all your life?"
After Snowball's trip to the village old dog Spot scarcely stirred from the farmyard. He left the woodchucks to scurry about the pasture as they pleased. For he felt that he ought to keep an eye on Snowball lamb.
The very next time that Snowball started to follow Johnnie Green out of the yard Spot ran up to him and barked at his heels. "Go back!" Spot growled. "Don't you dare leave this yard!"
And then, to Spot's surprise, Johnnie Green picked up a stick and threatened him with it.
"You let my lamb alone!" Johnnie cried. That was bad enough, according to old dog Spot's notion. But when Johnnie shouted, "Get out!" at him, that was worse.
Spot tucked his tail between his legs and slunk away, to hide himself under the woodshed. And there he stayed for the rest of the morning and sulked.
But in the afternoon he began to feel more cheerful. For Spot had heard Mrs. Green remark that school began the next day.
That was good news. At least Spot so thought it.
"This lamb won't get much notice from Johnnie Green after today," Spot told Henrietta Hen. "He'll be left here in the yard. And it won't be long now before Mrs. Green tells Farmer Green to put him in the pasture with the flock. She won't have him in everybody's way. She'll get rid of him quickly. You know that when Mrs. Green makes up her mind, things generally happen to suit her."
Henrietta nodded her handsome head.
"Just what I've often told the Rooster!" she exclaimed.
Well, the following morning, as much as an hour after breakfast, Johnnie Green started up the road with some books under his arm and a lunch basket in his hand. It was the first day of school. And somehow Johnnie wasn't feeling very happy. He had dawdled about the house - so his mother said. It appeared that he was in no hurry to leave home.
Before Johnnie had reached the barn, which stood beside the road, Mrs. Green stepped out of the house and looked at him.
"You'd better get along!" she called after him. "You don't want to be late the first day of school!"
So Johnnie Green fell into a jog trot, which he kept up all the way to the red schoolhouse.
As he came in sight of the little box like building he saw other youngsters hurrying through the doorway. And then Johnnie ran as fast as he could.
He burst inside the schoolroom just as the school mistress tapped the little bell on her desk, which meant that everybody must stop talking, because school had begun. Johnnie Green hurried to a seat. But before he reached it all the other pupils burst into a shout.
Johnnie looked around. And there, trotting across the floor, was Snowball! He had followed Johnnie all the way from Farmer Green's barn.
It was some time before things were quiet. The teacher had to ring her little bell a good many times, and even rap upon her desk with a ruler, before the boys and girls stopped laughing. And then the teacher turned to Johnnie Green and spoke to him.
"Mary!" she said. "Is this your little lamb?"
The teacher seemed surprised because her pupils began to roar at that. But she made no attempt to silence them. She did not even try to quiet a certain boy called "Red," who made more noise than all the rest together.
Meanwhile Johnnie Green's face looked like a great red apple. And it grew several shades redder when Snowball lamb walked up to his seat and stood close beside him.
"Don't you think—" said the teacher after a while—"don't you think, Mary, that you'd better take your little lamb home?"
Johnnie Green did not answer. But he hung his head as he rose and hurried out of the schoolroom, with Snowball lamb following close behind him.
Once outside Johnnie could hear the children still laughing. And he even thought that he could hear the teacher laughing, too.
That very morning Snowball lamb found himself turned into the pasture where Farmer Green's flock of sheep were passing the summer. And it wasn't long before the whole barnyard was filled with the noise of gossiping tongues.
"For once," said Henrietta Hen, "the Muley Cow knew what she was talking about when she said Johnnie Green would grow tired of that white snowball lamb."
As for old dog Spot, he told everybody that he was going up to the pasture to chase woodchucks.
And as for Johnnie Green, he told his mother that he didn't believe he'd go back to school any more.
But she said he should, and that very morning.
And things generally happened the way Mrs. Green intended.
Snowball wasn't sorry that Johnnie Green had turned him into the pasture. He found the pasture a delightful place. He had plenty of company, for there was a whole flock of sheep with him. And not only did he soon become acquainted with them. He met other folk, such as Billy Woodchuck and Jimmy Rabbit and old Mr. Crow. And though some of the older sheep paid scant heed to so young a lamb as Snowball, Mr. Crow often went out of his way to stop and talk with him.
That was because Mr. Crow loved a bit of gossip. And he was willing to chat with anybody on the chance of picking up some interesting morsel of news.
"We're going to have a treat," Snowball lamb informed old Mr. Crow one day.
The old gentleman cocked his head on one side and looked at Snowball lamb.
"How do you know you are?" he demanded. He was a great one for asking questions.
"The Muley Cow told me," Snowball explained. "Down in the barn she heard Farmer Green tell Johnnie about it."
"Ah, ha!" cried Mr. Crow. "I'll have to keep an eye on things. If there's going to be a treat I must get my share of it. . . . Where's it going to be—where do you expect to have this treat?"
"Right here in this pasture!"
"That's good!" Mr. Crow exclaimed. "I'm glad of that. I can enjoy it, then. I feared it might be in the barn. And I like plenty of room if I'm to enjoy a treat properly."
Snowball lamb began to feel a bit uneasy.
"The Muley Cow didn't say anything about your being invited," he blurted. "In fact she said that this treat was for us sheep only."
"Don't you worry about that!" the old gentleman assured him. "I know well enough that if Farmer Green didn't mention inviting me it was because he forgot it. I know he wouldn't like it if I stayed away."
Snowball lamb began to wish he hadn't mentioned the treat to Mr. Crow. But the secret was out. And when Mr. Crow asked when the treat was going to be Snowball confessed that the Muley Cow had told him the flock would enjoy it that very day.
"Ah!" said Mr. Crow with a smirk. "Then I must stay where I can see what's going on. So I'm going to sit in that tall elm over by the stone wall. When I see the sheep begin to bunch together I'll join you at once. . . . Please bleat three times when the treat is ready, for I might be dozing."
"I will," Snowball lamb promised.
And then Mr. Crow got ready to fly away.
"By the way," he said, pausing, "what's the treat to be?"
"The Muley Cow said she heard Farmer Green tell Johnnie to 'salt the sheep today,'" Snowball explained.
To his great surprise old Mr. Crow let out a deafening squawk when he heard that bit of news.
"Then I'll keep as far away from the pasture as I can get!" he cried.
Snowball couldn't understand old Mr. Crow's rage. Mr. Crow had invited himself to the treat that Johnnie Green was going to give the flock. But the moment the old gentleman heard that the treat was going to be salt he had squalled at the top of his hoarse voice that he was going to stay as far from the pasture as he could get.
"What's the matter?" Snowball lamb asked Mr. Crow. "Don't you like salt?"
Mr. Crow made a wry face.
"No, I don't!" he spluttered.
"Well, just because you don't happen to care for salt is no reason for your being so angry," Snowball told him.
And then Mr. Crow almost took his breath away.
"I agree with you," he said gruffly! And Mr. Crow was a person who was never known to agree with anybody! So that was an astonishing remark for him to make.
"Then I suppose you'll get over being angry, at once," Snowball ventured.
"I won't!" Mr. Crow thundered. "And take a bit of advice, young fellow: Don't go near the salting party! It will be dangerous," he added darkly.
"Why will it be dangerous?" Snowball inquired.
The old gentleman shook his head and put on a very wise look.
"I don't believe you've ever been at a salting party," he said.
And Snowball lamb confessed that he hadn't.
Whereat Mr. Crow nodded his head up and down several times and looked even wiser than before.
"It's lucky for you, my lad, that you told me about this affair," he declared. "For I'm going to keep you out of a peck of trouble. Don't you go near the party! Keep just as far away from it as you can! When you see Johnnie Green come inside the pasture you scramble over the stone wall and hide!" And now he shook his head.
"It's a pity—" he sighed—"a pity you can't fly, or climb a tree."
He was so gloomy that Snowball couldn't help feeling uncomfortable. And all he could manage to say was one word which he had hard work to stammer out. It was "W-w-why?"
"Because it's just a trick!" Mr. Crow explained. "It's a trick to catch you. This trick of salting the sheep is as old as the hills. But I suppose you're so young you never have happened to hear of it. I must say," he added, "I'm surprised that the Muley Cow didn't take the trouble to tell you all about it."
"Maybe she's too young to know about it, too," Snowball lamb suggested.
"Young!" Mr. Crow cried with a short, mirthless laugh. "The Muley Cow's not young. She's the oldest cow on the farm. If the truth must be told, she's so old that Farmer Green wouldn't keep her if it weren't that Johnnie Green thinks she belongs to him. And he'd raise a terrible row if his father sold her."
"Are you too young to explain about this trick that you just warned me against?" Snowball asked. "I'd like to know how there can be any danger in salt. How can anybody be caught with salt?"
"Well, you are a silly!" cried Mr. Crow. "Can't you guess that Johnnie Green is going to put salt on everybody's tail?"
Snowball Lamb was puzzled. He didn't understand old Mr. Crow's answer at all.
"What if Johnnie Green should put salt on my tail?" he asked Mr. Crow. "What harm would that do?"
The old gentleman stared at Snowball as if he couldn't quite believe that anybody could be so stupid.
"Haven't you ever heard that that's the way to catch people?" cried Mr. Crow at last. "Why, there isn't a boy in Pleasant Valley who doesn't know that and many of 'em carry salt about in their pockets all the time, hoping to get a chance some day to put the salt on my tail, and capture me!" Mr. Crow's bright eyes snapped. And his bill snapped, too. For the mere thought of such scheming always made him terribly angry.
And then Snowball said something that made Mr. Crow more impatient than ever.
"I don't care if Johnnie Green does catch me," Snowball declared. "Johnnie wouldn't hurt me. We've always been great friends."
"He wouldn't, eh?" Mr. Crow retorted. "How do you know he wouldn't hurt you?"
"He never has hurt me," Snowball replied.
"Perhaps not! Perhaps not!" Mr. Crow croaked. "But you never can tell. You never can tell what a boy will do. And if you go to the salting party and get into trouble, don't say I didn't warn you!" As the old fellow flew off he looked as if all the cares in the world were weighing him down. Snowball noticed that he flew heavily. It took a great amount of flapping of his broad wings to lift him out of the pasture. And when he was well up in the air he gave a glum caw, caw as he wheeled and sailed away down the wind.
Well, Snowball couldn't help being somewhat disturbed by Mr. Crow's grave actions and his graver remarks. "I wonder," thought Snowball, "if Mr. Crow knows what he's talking about. I'll ask the flock!"
So Snowball ran down the hillside pasture to the place where the flock had gathered to graze. And to his astonishment some of the flock didn't even lift their heads from the grass when he related all that Mr. Crow had said. Those that did pause and listen to Snowball only giggled and went to feeding again. No! there was one that spoke to him. Aunt Nancy Ewe spoke up a bit tartly.
"If you're worried you'd better stay away when Johnnie Green comes to salt us," she told him. "We all expect to have a very pleasant time," she added.
"Have you ever had salt put on your tail?" Snowball asked the old lady.
"Certainly not!" she snapped. And she glared at Snowball so fiercely that he fell back several steps. "Are you trying to insult me?" she cried.
He did not answer. It was plain to him that Aunt Nancy didn't know anything about the trick of putting salt on one's tail. Yes! Mr. Crow must be wiser than she was.
"They'll all get into trouble," Snowball thought. And then he said something that was almost exactly like what Mr. Crow had said to him. "They can't say I didn't warn them!"
Snowball Lamb stood in the pasture apart from the rest of the flock. Aunt Nancy Ewe had returned to her grazing. And not one of her companions acted as if some dreadful peril hung over him. Nobody would have thought, to look at the flock, that they were about to have salt put on their tails. But Snowball knew that it was so. Far down the valley he could hear old Mr. Crow's warning caw, caw, telling him again to beware of Johnnie Green.
And just then Johnnie squirmed through the pasture bars and pulled a sack after him. Presently he began to call to the sheep. And Snowball watched while they went, one and all, on a dead run towards the bars.
Then Snowball turned and ran the other way, straight for the stone wall. He didn't even look back once, but scrambled over the wall and lost himself in the tangle of berry bushes that grew in a rocky old pasture that hadn't been used for years.
"He's salting them by this time," Snowball muttered to himself. "Johnnie Green is salting the sheep. And I'm glad Mr. Crow warned me, for I shouldn't want salt put on my tail. It must be terrible to be caught that way."
"What's that you're saying?" said a lively voice nearby.
Snowball leaped back, then stood still and stared at a pair of antlers which stuck up from behind a berry bush.
The antlers rose a little higher. And then Snowball saw the face of Nimble Deer beneath them.
"What were you murmuring about salt?" Nimble inquired pleasantly.
"Johnnie Green is salting the sheep over in our pasture," Snowball explained.
"He is, eh?" cried Nimble Deer. "Then why aren't you there with the rest?"
Snowball lamb shook his head.
"It's too dangerous," he said. "I don't want salt put on my tail."
Nimble Deer gave him a queer look.
"It is dangerous, while Johnnie Green is there—or it would be dangerous if he had a gun," Nimble admitted. "But what's this you say about salt on your tail?"
"Johnnie Green is putting salt on the tail of every sheep in the flock," Snowball lamb declared.
"That's odd," said Nimble. "I'll have to look into this matter—after Johnnie Green has left the pasture."
Snowball lamb did not follow Nimble as he moved nearer the stone wall. But he stood still and watched. Presently he saw Nimble leap the wall. After that Snowball could no longer see him.
It was some time later when Nimble jumped back over the wall and landed lightly on the ledge that ran alongside it. And Snowball lamb noticed that his face wore a very cheerful look.
"Well?" said Snowball lamb.
"That was as good salt as I ever tasted," Nimble remarked, running his tongue over his lips. "If you hurry you'll be able to get a taste even now."
"I've never eaten any salt," said Snowball lamb.
"Then hurry, by all means!" cried Nimble Deer. "You don't know what you're missing."
"Has Johnnie gone?" Snowball inquired.
"I suppose he spilled some of the salt on the ground," said Snowball. "You know he's a very careless boy."
"He spilled heaps of it," Nimble Deer replied. "But the sheep are eating it fast."
Well, Snowball was puzzled. How could the sheep be eating salt if Johnnie Green had caught them? It was more than he could understand. But if Nimble Deer had been with them—and come back safely—there couldn't be any great danger.
So Snowball lamb hurried over the stone wall and scampered down to the place near the bars, where the flock still lingered.
As Snowball joined them he saw that they were all busily eating something white that lay in little piles upon the ground.
He tasted of the stuff, carefully. It was delicious. And wasting no more time, he gobbled up all of the salt that he could get.
When it was gone Snowball lamb turned to old Aunt Nancy Ewe.
"May I lick the salt off your tail?" he asked her politely.
She gave him a haughty stare.
"Have you no respect for your elders?" Aunt Nancy asked him severely.
"Pardon me!" said Snowball lamb. "Maybe I'm mistaken, but Mr. Crow told me——"
"Mr. Crow!" Aunt Nancy cried, before Snowball could finish. "So it's Mr. Crow that's been putting queer ideas into your head! I might have known it. After this don't ever listen to him! He's been the means of your almost missing a fine treat—and one that doesn't come every day in the year."
"You must learn, little one, to be careful who you listen to. Not everyone will have your best interests at heart.
We are your family now, you may trust us."
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